, Volume 5, Issue 1, pp 36–51 | Cite as

‘Civilizing technologies’ and the control of deviance

  • Scott Vrecko
Original Article


This article contributes to cultural theorizations of the regulation of deviant forms of thought and behaviour through an analysis of scientific accounts of, and approaches to, managing ‘behavioural addictions’. Much cultural analysis assumes that biomedical formulations of addiction simply provide a scientific façade for forms of social control, and hence, that such formulations are unworthy of serious consideration. I argue that critical inquiries into processes of social change and social regulation could be strengthened by carefully considering, and engaging with, contemporary addiction medicine; and provide an example of such an approach by examining some of the new descriptions of people, emotions and behaviours – as well as new means of acting on individuals, feelings and conduct – that have begun to emerge within theories, therapies and popular science representations that frame behavioural addictions as brain diseases. Although recognizing the validity of some biomedical claims – for example, that there are physiological components to behavioural compulsions, and that effective addiction therapies may act on the bodies of patients – I argue against conceptualizing behavioural compulsions as diseases, and against conceptualizing therapeutic interventions for such compulsions as ‘treatments’. Instead, I make the case that, according to biomedical discourses themselves, it is more accurate to describe addiction interventions – which are used to produce better citizens, rather than to cure biological diseases – as ‘civilizing technologies’.


compulsion deviance civilizing process human kinds addiction behaviour 



This article has benefitted from feedback that the author received when presenting early versions of this article at the University of Pennsylvania, Monash University (Prato campus), and especially the ‘Addiction, the Brain, and Society Conference’ conference at Emory University. Linsey McGoey and anonymous referees also provided helpful, and much appreciated, comments and insights.


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Copyright information

© The London School of Economics and Political Science 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Scott Vrecko
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Sociology & PhilosophyUniversity of ExeterUK

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